We all have a morning routine that helps us to start our day. From modeling the perfect outfit to listening to Alexa update us on the morning traffic, we perform these seemingly mundane tasks day in and day out without so much as a second thought. But as one woman found out, perhaps we should be paying more attention…

When 53-year-old Stephanie Brauns of Ohio noticed she began to feel ill every morning without fail, she could no longer ignore the symptoms. And when she realized that the very thing that was making her sick had to do with her ordinary morning routine, she was in utter disbelief!

Most adults go about their morning routines without so much as a thought. They take a shower, choose an outfit, and head out for the day. Fifty-three-year-old Stephanie Brauns of Withamsville, Ohio, was no different.

Though nothing about her morning routine changed over the years, she couldn’t help but notice something started to feel off. Every day, around the exact same time, she would begin to feel ill. Still, she struggled to pinpoint exactly why.

Stephanie felt this way so frequently that she began to wonder what she was doing wrong. By the time she was ready to head for the door, she would be so unbelievably sick that going to work seemed impossible.

But that’s when she had a sudden realization: “I always had my coffee at home,” Stephanie pointed out. “And within three sips… I’m having severe reactions.” Eventually, at the suggestion of a friend, she read an article online that changed everything…

The article mentioned how many coffeemakers feature certain dangerous aspects, like collecting dirt. It also explained that the devices often gather a variety of mold and bacteria inside, and they can harbor more germs than a toilet seat!

[Coffeemakers] are certainly a moist environment where mold and bacteria are known to grow in high number,” Kelly Reynolds, associate professor of public health at the University of Arizona, explained. But could it really be enough to make Stephanie sick?

Absolutely, according to Kelly. While the human body can put up with this bacteria for a limited time, “…at some point they’ll grow to levels high enough to cause sickness,” she confirmed.

Upon learning this, Stephanie was—understandably—afraid of what she might find. So she brought the coffeemaker into her office to open it up and investigate. When she finally plied off the lid using a screwdriver, she was beyond repulsed by what she found inside…

Not only was there an immense level of calcium buildup, but a brownish mold had grown there as well. “It was horrifying,” Stephanie later admitted. She was disgusted by her discovery.

Perhaps what shocked Stephanie the most was just how difficult the product’s design made it to clean in the first place. She began to wonder whether there was even an option to avoid this kind of bacteria buildup from happening in the future…

“It is impossible to get to the full tank, unless you dismantle this machine, which I haven’t figured out yet,” Stephanie said. “Outside of taking a hammer to it, I don’t know how to completely open it and see what’s inside.”

While it was horrifying to find the disgusting dirt and sludge built up inside her coffeemaker, Stephanie was glad that she’d finally uncovered the root of her problem. Then, she had an idea…

Stephanie began focusing on bringing awareness to the issue. Not only did she want to warn the public of the dangers, but she wanted to make sure they didn’t just ignore the symptoms either. She stressed that manufacturers needed to make their machines easier to clean.

In the meantime, Stephanie sent a sample of the buildup to the producers of her coffeemaker. While she didn’t receive an answer, she knew that the majority of such products did contain coliform bacteria.

When the word spread about Stephanie’s discovery, many people were quick to reach out with similar stories. Some, like Carolyn Forté of the Good Housekeeping Research Institute, even offered a helping hand…

Carolyn and a number of other publications, like Home Appliances and Cleaning Products Lab, suggested that using a vinegar solution would likely work best, since it contained sanitizing properties.

Carolyn was sure to mention how Stephanie and others could be sure to keep their coffeemakers as clean as possible. “The carafe, lid, and filter basket should be cleaned daily with warm, sudsy water,” she said.

But people like Stephanie, who use their coffeemakers every single day, do need to perform maintenance a few times a year, too. “A coffeemaker that’s used daily should be decalcified about once per month in hard-water areas and every two to three months in soft-water areas,” Carolyn concluded.

The same kind of maintenance also goes for people who use pod-based coffeemakers, like a Keurig. By placing a solution of water and white vinegar into the water dispenser and running it through, they will effectively clean the mechanism inside.

As for Stephanie, her love for coffee was far too great to ever give it up. So, like everyone else, she simply needed to keep up with cleaning her coffeemaker regularly. But it did make her think, what other household items might be posing a threat?

You may be surprised by all the items that you keep using after the recommended period. Grab some garbage bags and get into the cleaning mindset: trashing these items might improve your health — or even save a life!

Pacifiers: Babies might not like this, but parents should switch out pacifiers every couple months. Otherwise, the latex will start to crack, or the pacifier will become a hotbed for germs if your child becomes ill. 

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Skillets: Flipping a pancake is already stressful enough, so don’t make it any more difficult. Replace your non-stick pans every six to twelve months, and there will — hopefully — be fewer kitchen disasters.

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Power strips: We all juggle a thousand devices these days, and that means we juggle a thousand charging cables, too. To prevent fire hazards, test out your power strips every couple years to make sure they can handle a plethora of cords. Your phone will thank you.

Bug spray: Anyone can slap away a single mosquito, but an entire swarm is another question. But don’t rely on that old bottle of bug spray. It actually loses its potency as time goes on. Only the newer stuff will help keep the itch away.

Aurora / Svetlana Bahchevanova

Couch: Be honest. How often do you actually clean your sofa? If you own pets, grime will overrun your couch after several years, and if you sit frequently, it’ll sag and be less comfortable. High-quality furniture lasts longer, so a pricier sofa is likely worth the investment.

Bike helmets: Smart cyclists always take measures to protect themselves. Not only should you wear a helmet, but you should also buy a new one every once in a while. They often sit in your garage and bake, and high temperatures make helmets less resilient.

Flickr / Chris Deatrick

Fire extinguishers: Most of us hope to never have to put out a fire, but in the event that you need an extinguisher, you’d certainly want it to work. For proper fire safety, service it every couple of years and consider replacing it every twenty. 

Yoga mat: While you’re busy finding your center, tons of bacteria are finding their way into the grooves of your yoga mat. Rotating new mats into your routine helps prevent nasty infections like athlete’s foot.

Flickr / Sandy Moynihan

Toothbrush: Even if you brush your teeth twice a day just like the dentist says, it might not be doing you any good if you’re using an old brush. After a couple of months, the bristles wear out and become home to all kinds of microscopic gunk.

Hairbrush: To keep your ‘do looking fresh, definitely clean out your brush every week and consider getting a new brush each year to keep your mane really fresh. It should be noted that any hairbrush works perfectly as a pretend microphone, regardless of age.

Makeup: Even the bravest beauty queens out there can’t lean on one cosmetic forever. Each item has a limited shelf life, after which it’ll be less effective. Additionally, you should absolutely toss out makeup after applying it to an infected area like a cold sore.

Passwords: It’s not just physical items you need to replace. To ensure your security online, experts recommend that you update your computer passwords every couple of years. That way, you can always stay one step ahead of identity thieves!

Sponges: Though it’s one of the handiest cleaning tools around, your sponge can do more harm than good after a couple weeks. You can boil it in hot water to eliminate bacteria growth, or just throw it out! Make sure you don’t nail anybody in the face with it, though.

Water bottles: It’s a safe bet to stock up on bottled water in case of emergencies, but the plastic caps actually start to deteriorate after a couple of years. Its chemicals start to bleed into the water — so you should probably avoid old bottles (you can still stack them into a fort)!

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Tires: Without regular tire inspections, your car is at a high risk for accidents. If you notice bald patches on the rubber, then it’s definitely time to switch. But you don’t have to toss the tire out in the garbage — maybe it could make a nice swing?

Flickr / Marilou Goodwin

Running shoes: Exercising is the bee’s knees, but make sure you’re using the right tools. For running shoes, you’re best off grabbing a new pair every 300 miles. After that point, your shoes won’t provide the same support, and you risk all kinds of injury.

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Refrigerators: When it comes to cleaning out your fridge, it’s best not to wait until it’s a biological hazard. If you have the finances, you’re best off buying a new refrigerator every ten or so years. Newer energy-efficient models might even save you on your power bills!

Pillows: Sleep is important, so don’t underestimate the value of a good pillow. Upgrading to a new one regularly will prevent a build-up of dust mites and provide better support for your neck and back. Sweet dreams!

Washers and Dryers: Quality appliances can last up to ten years (and provide your cat with countless hours of entertainment). But after that, they tend to develop serious mechanical issues or become unable to effectively wash the stink off your clothes.

Spices: Are you a proud citizen of Flavortown? As you would expect, salt, pepper, and other seasonings in your cupboard won’t necessarily go bad, but they do lose their taste over time. Rotate fresh spices into your kitchen and keep your recipes as tasty.

Flickr / heydrienne